The Barnes Wallis-designed “Stratosphere Chamber” was built in 1946 to investigate high-speed flight at very high altitudes. It was restored and re-interpreted using a grant of £120,000 from the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) Biffa Award Scheme, with a new exhibition highlighting Wallis’ research work for the Vickers aircraft company after 1946.
For many years the Chamber was only able to be viewed in a limited way and much of its operating machinery was disposed of or moved to make way for other developments. However, all the areas surrounding the chamber, including the elevated Control Room and the refrigeration/vacuum plant room, have now been made accessible, giving a ‘backstage’ view of this extraordinary area of industrial heritage.
Also on display in the Stratosphere Chamber building is the Museum’s collection of aero engines ranging from the simplest early piston engines up to advanced turbofan jet engines and, in the Chamber itself, the forward section of a Vickers Vanguard airliner just as it could have been seen on test in the 1950s. Next to the Control Room, the Brooklands Radio Display can be found - see www.brooklandswireless.com for more information.
The intention is that this exhibition will inspire people of all ages, including young people who may be considering careers in science and technology, using the technological achievements of people at Brooklands, both in the days of the motor racing circuit and during the 80 years of aviation on the site. This project will further this aim by sharing the inspirational story of Barnes Wallis, especially now that the extensive archives owned by the Barnes Wallis Memorial Trust have been placed on loan with the Museum and will be available for display and research.
Weapons and Missiles
Having been the hub of Barnes Wallis’ secret weapons production during World War 2, weapons development continued at Brooklands during the Cold War era. Engineers at Brooklands developed a range of guided weapons for a variety of purposes during the 1950s and ‘60s. These included cruise missiles, TV-guided bombs, and anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Vickers also had a team in Australia conducting trials at Woomera using Canberra and B-29 Washington bomber aircraft. Guided weapon development at Brooklands ended when the department was moved to the English Electric site in Stevenage and combined with their existing operations.
Our Guided Weapons exhibition was housed in the Wellington Hangar, where many of them were designed, before its closure as part of the Brooklands Aircraft Factory and Race Track Revival Project. The collection returned to the hangar as part of the new exhibition, the display includes: a Red Dean air-to-air missile, Blue Boar 5,000lb air to ground TV-guided gliding bomb, Red Rapier surface to surface radar-guided missile, Vigilant anti-tank weapon, and Rapier low-level anti-aircraft missile.
Our aero engine collection, mainly housed in the Stratosphere Chamber building, illustrates over 100 years of development in aviation engines. Many of the exhibits are sectioned or motorised to give an insight into the workings of these feats of engineering.
There are examples of a wide range of engines relating to aircraft with Brooklands history, from the 1909 Anzani 25 hp that propelled Louis Blériot over the English Channel in 1909 to the Rolls-Royce Olympus which carried Concorde to Mach 2. Other highlights are the Rolls-Royce Merlin, which powered some of the most iconic aircraft of the Second World War, and the Rolls-Royce Avon, which powered the Hawker Hunter and Supermarine Swift to World Air Speed records in the 1950s.